Maron, Martine and Lill, Alan (2005) The influence of livestock grazing and weed invasion on habitat use by birds in grassy woodland remnants. Biological Conservation, 124 (4). pp. 439-450. ISSN 0006-3207
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Official URL: http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.biocon.2005.02.002
Identification Number or DOI: doi: 10.1016/j.biocon.2005.02.002
Remnants of native vegetation in regions dominated by agriculture are subject to degradation, especially by livestock grazing and weed invasion. Ground-foraging birds are amongst the most threatened bird groups in Australia, and these agents of degradation might be contributing to their decline by causing a reduction in food availability. We studied the foraging behaviour and microhabitat use of seven species of ground-foraging insectivores in south-eastern Australian buloke woodland remnants with native, grazed and weedy ground-layers. If birds must resort to using more energetically expensive prey-attack manoeuvres, or selectively use substrates and microhabitats that are less available in degraded habitats, then such degradation is likely to be negatively impacting on these species. We found evidence of a negative impact of one or both of these types of degradation on five of the seven bird species. Three species that employ a range of foraging manoeuvres to attack prey used potentially more energetically-expensive aerial manoeuvres significantly more frequently in weedy remnants than in remnants with a native or grazed ground layer. Red-capped robins Petroica goodenovii and brown treecreepers Climacteris picumnus both selectively foraged near trees in grazed sites, and hooded robins Melanodryas cucullata, red-capped robins and willie wagtails Rhipidura leucophrys avoided foraging in microhabitats with a high percentage cover of exotic grasses in weedy sites. Brown treecreepers were also less likely to be present in weedy sites that had been protected from grazing than in either grazed or native sites. These results suggest that although grazing appears to have a detrimental impact on foraging habitat of ground-foraging birds, the exclusion of livestock grazing from previously disturbed buloke remnants alone is not adequate to restore habitat values for ground-foraging birds. A conservation strategy for this habitat type should consider the exclusion of heavy grazing from sites 3 with an intact cryptogamic crust and the management of weeds in disturbed remnants, potentially through the use of carefully controlled light grazing.
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